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Burns: 3 Things we learned from another loss to St. Louis

Beat writer Bryan Burns on deserving better, a costly power play and Kucherov heating up

by Bryan Burns / TampaBayLightning.com

Tampa Bay felt much better about its play against St. Louis Wednesday night at AMALIE Arena than it did eight nights earlier in St. Louis in a lethargic 3-1 loss to the defending Stanley Cup champions.

The Lightning still didn't feel good about the result though.

St. Louis broke open a 2-2 game with a pair of goals in a span of 2:46 of the third period to pull in front and held off a late Lightning surge to escape AMALIE Arena with a 4-3 win over the Bolts.

Tampa Bay saw its three-game win streak come to an end. St. Louis swept the two-game regular season series from the Lightning, and the Bolts have now dropped four in a row to the Blues.

The Lightning felt Wednesday's contest should have gone their way, however.

The upcoming schedule doesn't get any easier for the Bolts either as they travel to Washington, D.C. to take on the League-leading Capitals Friday before hosting Eastern Conference finalist Carolina at AMALIE Arena Saturday.

Here's what went right and wrong for the Lightning in their pre-Thanksgiving tilt against the Blues.

Video: Cooper: " That was a pretty good hockey game"

1. UNJUST RESULT
Tampa Bay played well enough to grab both points from Wednesday's game.

At the very least, the Lightning deserved one.

At 5-on-5, the Bolts and Blues played to a standstill. Special teams, however, is where the Lightning ultimately lost the game.

On Tampa Bay's first power play, Oskar Sundqvist was first to a puck at the blue line and outraced the rest of the Lightning down the ice to beat Andrei Vasilevskiy shorthanded and level the score 1-1 just 1:38 after Nikita Kucherov netted the game's opening goal.

And in the third period having just retaken the lead, St. Louis added to it by converting a 5-on-3 power play, the Lightning nearly escaping before Brayden Schenn scored what would ultimately prove to be the game-winner with the Bolts killing one penalty but not both.

"We give up the shorty. Eventually, it ended up being the difference," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. "I liked our game. It was a good hockey game, one of those, we're on the losing side of it so it's natural to sit here and say we should have gotten points out of it, but I was happy with a lot of things we did. We did everything in our game plan we wanted to accomplish. We just fell one short."

Following Tampa Bay's 3-1 loss in St. Louis, the Lightning and their head coach didn't mince words about the team's poor play.

The locker room was much more encouraged by their effort in the rematch with the Blues, the result notwithstanding.

"All in all, it was a good game, and it's kind of one we feel like we should have a point coming out of it," Lightning defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "It's a hard team over there to play against, and they capitalized on the few mistakes we made. We've just got to keep our heads up because we've got some tough opponents coming up here, and I think all in all we had a pretty good game."

Wednesday's game could have gone either way.

Unfortunately, the Lightning ended up on the wrong end of an evenly-played game.

"We keep playing like this, we're going to have a lot of success," Victor Hedman said.

Video: Shattenkirk on the loss to STL

2. TWO-MAN ADVANTAGE TOO MUCH TO OVERCOME
Tampa Bay killed 1:44 of a two-man advantage for St. Louis after Alex Killorn was penalized for slashing at 9:02 of the third period for the Bolts' first penalty of the game and Yanni Gourde joined him in the box :16 seconds later.

The Lightning couldn't, however, survive the brief, ensuing 5-on-4.

Brayden Schenn got the puck in the right circle and had time and space to shoot under Andrei Vasilevskiy's left arm at the near post just as Killorn was exiting the box for a demoralizing goal against.

The Lightning had just given up the lead a few minutes earlier when Zach Sanford one-timed a shot from the right circle into the net.

Allowing another goal less than three minutes later in a 5-on-3 situation they almost survived proved to be too much to overcome.

"It hurts for sure," Lightning center Brayden Point said. "But I thought we rallied back, we stayed with it, we were doing a great job on the 5-on-3 there and they get one right at the end. It's just unfortunate. I thought (Vasilevskiy) made some great saves to hold us in, but like I said there's a lot to build on there."

Tampa Bay's penalty kill has been lights out in the month of November. The special teams unit had allowed just one power-play goal in nine games during the month entering the St. Louis game and led the NHL for November penalty kill percentage at 96.5 percent.

Schenn's goal will go down as a mark against the group, but the penalty kill did everything it could to keep the puck out of the net and keep the Lightning in the game, even without one of their top penalty killers in Erik Cernak, who was serving the first of his two game suspension for a head-high hit on Buffalo's Rasmus Dahlin on Monday.

"It's tough to give that at the end," Cooper said. "Vasy stood tall there on that 5-on-3. Guys were laying out. Unfortunate one went in there. We're down 5-on-3 for 1:44, that's a long time to kill. We almost got through it, but eventually we didn't."

Video: STL@TBL: Kucherov finds twine off the face-off

3. KUCHEROV HEATING UP
Nikita Kucherov recorded 18 points through the first 18 games of the season.

For most players, that would be a satisfying pace.

But Kucherov isn't most players, especially after the 128-point season he put up last year.

Kucherov has looked frustrated at times as he struggled to post points with the abundance he did a season ago.

Since returning from an upper-body injury that kept him out of a game in Chicago last week (Nov. 21), however, Kucherov has started to pick up his scoring pace.

The Russian right wing netted Tampa Bay's opening goal at 3:53 of the second period, wristing a shot from the high slot into the back of the net for his third goal in the last three games. Kucherov added an assist on Tampa Bay's other two goals for a three-point night, his third three-point night of the season.

Kucherov now leads the Lightning for goals (9) and scoring (24 pts.).

It was around this time last season when Kucherov caught fire too.

Few remember he, like this season, had just 18 points through the first 18 games.

But starting with game No. 19, Kucherov went on a tear, posting points in 10-straight games (5-19-24) and multiple points in eight of them, capped off by a four-point effort at New Jersey.

Over his last three games this season, Kucherov has posted multiple points twice and recorded three goals and three assists.

Not saying Kucherov is going to replicate his ridiculous pace from a season ago.

But he's certainly starting to hit his stride, and considering what he was able to do last season once he got in a groove, opposing teams are going to want to pay close attention to him over these next few games.

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